The Education Story for the Small Island Development States 2000-2015

This blog sums up a new Regional Overview of the EFA GMR 2015 for the Small Island Developing States. The overview was prepared to feed into the 19th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers taking place this week in the Bahamas.

SIDSmall Island Developing States (SIDS) are a group of 39 countries that share the common characteristics of small size, isolation and vulnerability to natural and environmental disasters. Below is brief overview of their Education for All achievements and challenges during the past 15 years:

Among the 24 countries with data in the region the GMR projects that 14 will reach the early childhood care and education goal by 2015. Nine countries are likely to remain far or very far from the target.

SID1Since 1999, numbers enrolled in pre-primary education increased in more than three-quarters of countries with data in the SIDS, notably in the Cook Islands and Tonga, where ratios more than doubled. However, ratios decreased in several countries, including in Guyana, Saint Lucia and Samoa. Despite overall positive trends, in more than half of SIDS, on average fewer than 75% of children were enrolled in pre-primary school, albeit with major variations across countries, ranging from less than 7% in Guinea-Bissau to more than 100% in Cuba, Mauritius and Seychelles.

One major barrier to pre-primary education in the SIDS is cost. Despite government commitment under EFA to expand ECCE ‘especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged’, in at least half of countries in the region, 60% or more of pre-primary education was provided by the private sector. Private enrolment accounts for 100% of pre-primary enrolment in Saint Lucia, Samoa and Tonga.

SID2In 2012, half of all SIDS had achieved universal primary enrolment. Yet, some countries remain far from the goal, with only 71% enrolled in Guinea-Bissau for instance. The GMR projects that fifteen countries will have achieved, or be close to achieving, the goal by 2015, and only one country – Guyana- will be far from the target by the deadline, with fewer than 80% of children enrolled. Haiti, despite facing a severe earthquake, food crisis and floods, more than halved the number of children who had never been to school between 2000 and 2012.

There has been significant progress in helping the poorest access primary school as well. Progress was very notable in Suriname where the primary completion rate rose from 28% to 63% between 2000 and 2010. In Haiti, the rate of youth from the poorest households attaining primary school level also increased significantly since 2000, but still only 25% were completing in 2010 compared to an average in the country of 60%.

SID3In 2012, on average, almost all children in SIDS countries were enrolled in lower secondary education (99%), and around 79% enrolled in upper secondary. At lower secondary, rates ranged from 62% in Timor-Leste to more than 100% in Grenada and the Marshall Islands. In upper secondary education, the lowest participation level was reported in Papua New Guinea with a GER of only 22%, and the highest in Barbados with a GER of about 103% in 2011.

Despite greater attention to technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in recent years, and clearer understanding and definitions of the skills involved, it remains a low priority in most SIDS countries. In 2012, the share of technical and vocational education (TVE) in total secondary enrolment was below 4% in half of SIDS countries. TVE programmes did not exist in several SIDS countries, most of which were in the Caribbean and the Pacific.

SID4The estimated adult literacy rate across the SIDS was about 91% or below in half of countries in the region in 2012, with the rate varying greatly from 49% in Haiti to close to 100% in Cuba and Palau.

Despite overall positive trends in adult literacy, however, projections indicate that of the few countries with data, only two, Singapore and Suriname, would have reached the goal 4 target of halving their 2000 adult illiteracy rate by 2015. Two countries, Comoros and Papua New Guinea, would still be far from the target, having reduced illiteracy by less than 30%.

Sid5The GMR projects that, by 2015, more than two thirds of SIDS countries will have achieved gender parity in primary education. Some countries, meanwhile, that had reached the gender parity target in 1999 have been moving away from it, either slightly, as in Suriname, or more significantly, as in the Dominican Republic or Guyana.

Gender disparities are wider and more varied in secondary education. The GMR projects that only 43% of countries will reach gender parity at this level or be close to the target. Suriname is the only country predicted to remain far from the target in 2015. In most of the countries likely not to reach the target, gender gaps are at the expense of boys and have emerged, remained or even widened between 1999 and 2012.

The proportion of female teachers is one indicator of progress towards gender equality, also a part of Goal 5. In 2012, female teachers accounted for about 78% or more of the total primary school teaching staff in one-half of countries in the region.

SID6There is much greater focus on learning in SIDS countries: since 2000 more than double the proportion of countries carried out national learning assessments over the 2000-2013 period than did in the 1990s. Also in two-thirds of SIDS countries the total number of primary school teachers increased between 1999 and 2012. However, there still remain fifty-two students per teacher in primary schools in Guinea-Bissau. Pre-service teacher preparation remains an issue in many countries. On average, around 74% of primary school teachers were trained in 2012, dropping to only 39% in Guinea-Bissau.


Since 2000, most Small Island Developing States made significant progress towards Education for All (EFA). More children have had access to pre-primary, primary and secondary education. Gender disparities have been reduced, and several of these countries have achieved gender parity, particularly at the primary education level. Despite improvements, levels of participation in education and levels of adult literacy remain low in a number of the SIDS. Poor educational quality remains another challenge in most countries, as are persisting geographic, socio-economic and ethnic disparities in education. These inequalities must be redressed as the world is defining a new education agenda, and for children, youth and adults to benefit equally from the opportunities education provides, regardless of the circumstances of birth.



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